Appreciation matters

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Here’s a question for you. When was the last time you paid someone a compliment? Not a superficial one, like “oh my, you look beautiful”, but a profound and heartfelt one. One that addresses a key trait of that person, whether it’s their creativity, their analytical powers, their compassion and empathy, or their thoughtfulness?

If you answered this question with “It’s been a while,” keep reading. Even if you did pay a sincere compliment to someone recently, keep reading.

From an evolutionary standpoint, we tent to favour the negative over the positive. It’s best to be suspicious of a lion or tiger approaching you than to embrace it. It has gotten us to where we are over the many millennia. But we live in a society where we don’t really have to worry about threats from lions, tigers, snakes, and other animals that might kill you. Except in Australia. (Only slightly kidding about that, but be wary of the wildlife down under.) But we still favour the negative somehow, and it is being used to manipulate us to a great extent.

Think, for instance, about the news. Good news is no news, so it seems. The news cycle has become much, much shorter in the last 20 or so years, and the speed with which (mostly bad) news is spewed has increased tremendously. It’s no wonder people are experiencing more anxiety. I don’t think society has become more dangerous, but because of the spin media put on everything to retain readership, i.e., focus on the negative, it certainly looks that way.

In business, things going well are the baseline. Only if something goes wrong, the quest to find a scapegoat starts. The blame game is a real thing, but it’s detrimental to people’s well-being in the work force. I’m happy that, slowly but surely, more and more companies are actively trying to change the way we work, for instance, by putting more focus on what goes right. A good example is “Happy Melly” from the Netherlands. But we still have far to go.

Currently, I am in the process of becoming a Time to Think Facilitator. It is based around Ten Component, each one of which will enrich people’s thinking. When all ten components are present, people’s thinking will soar! An environment in which the ten components are all present is called a Thinking Environment, and it was discovered by Nancy Kline. She wrote about it in her books ‘Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind’ and ‘More Time to Think’. One of the Ten Components is ‘Appreciation’.

For people to think well, we need a ratio of 5:1 of appreciation to criticism.

Kline argues that for people to think well, we need a ratio of 5:1 of appreciation to criticism. Our brain is perfectly capable of handling criticism, but not when it’s all we hear. By acknowledging the things that go well, or the positive traits that people exhibit, can we usefully offer criticism. Being appreciated puts our brain in a ‘toward’ state. People who are beaten down by relentless criticism are no longer capable of thinking clearly and creatively.

From my experience, people have a hard time putting appreciation into words. It’s so easy to find something to criticise, because we’ve been subjected to it for so long. It’s much harder to find the positive traits in people and to acknowledge them. But we can learn to do just that, but we may need to work on our vocabulary.

I created a tool to work on building our positive vocabulary. It is called Apprecio. The goal of the tool is twofold: first of all, to find inspiration for words that convey positive traits. Words like creative, humble, thoughtful, inspirational, etc. You can visit the website just to read those words and build your vocabulary.

The second goal is to actually appreciate a character trait in someone else. You can share your message by sending a direct message (DM) on Twitter, or by copying the URL and sending it by email. Other platforms may follow, but for now that’s it. The message reads something like: “Hi, I’m just reaching out to let you know that I think you are incisive.”

Naturally, the functionality of the tool is still a bit limited: the message you can send is short and simple. Sometimes you want to appreciate a variety of personal traits someone has. You can and you should, but because Apprecio has this dual goal, we want to keep it simple. For now. Feel free to send someone a message to tell them what you value about them, or better yet: say it to their face and watch it light up!

Try it. It’s really simple. Visit Apprecio, and play around with it. Be inspired by the positive words, and ultimately make your appreciation a reality.

When someone pays you a sincere compliment, just say “Thank You!”

On, and finally there’s this: when someone pays you a sincere compliment, make sure to just say “Thank you!” and bask in the warm and fuzzy feeling you’ll experience as a result. It’s worth it.